We gather this morning for the purpose of remembering the life and mourning the loss of Wilfred (better known as “Bill”) Irish. Today we want to give thanks to God for his life even as we covet God’s strength at this time of his death.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, gave us the perspective we need today. His words seem to me to resonate with what I have come to understand the heart of Bill Irish to have been.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us in his presence…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
For the last year or better Bill Irish has been hard pressed on every side. He had numerous close calls with death, but like the Energizer Bunny, he seemed to just keep going. Now as his body is laid to rest we are reminded of the promise of God that God “would raise us up with Jesus and present us in his presence.” With that hope let’s turn to God in prayer,
Gracious Father, we acknowledge you as the one who gives life and the one who takes it away. We recognize that your timing is always perfect. In so many ways we have been expecting this day. We’ve known that Bill had been sick for a long time. We are grateful for the extra months of life that you gave him. Now, as we remember his life, we ask you to fill us with the perspective and hope that comes from you. Comfort us in this time of loss we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Wilfred Ray “Bill” Irish was born May 11, 1932 in Fountain Green Township the daughter of Lawrence and Rena Clair Chesser Irish.
Mr. Irish was an athlete in High School where he played football and ran track. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a major in Agriculture. After College he served in the Army during the time of the Korean War (1954-1956) where he served in Germany. Following his military service he moved to Sioux City and then Omaha. He worked for Wilson Packing and then Farmer John’s Meats for many years as a livestock broker. He bought hogs from a four state area and then was responsible for shipping them to California.
Bill Irish never married. He was a member of the Boone and Crocket Shrine in Omaha and was an active member of the Rockbrook Methodist Church.
Wilfred “Bill” Irish died Monday, May 28th, at the Hospice House in Omaha Nebraska. He is survived by two sisters, EmaLou and her husband John Boyer of Granite City, IL. And Elaine and her husband Wayne Glass of Galesburg; one brother Dr. Lawrence and his wife Edie Irish or Reno, Nevada; one sister-in-law, Diana Irish of LaHarpe, and many nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, one sister, Kathleen Irish, and one brother, Ted Irish.
I did not have the pleasure to know Mr. Irish. However, from what I’ve learned, he seemed to be a very interesting and engaging man. He worked hard throughout his life and was good at his job. He did well for himself.
He enjoyed people. He loved to eat out and at each of his favorite restaurants he had his special waitress that he knew well. He knew all about her personal life. He would always ask about her family and the issues that he knew were of concern to her. Bill was a favorite customer. Bill had lots of friends and would do anything for them. He was wonderfully generous.
Even though Bill lived away from home, he remained involved in his family. He took great care of his mother. He came home every year between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just to spend time with mom. He made an effort to attend many of the family functions and he cared greatly for his nieces and nephews.
Bill had an ornery side to him. He loved to be playful. When he was in High School, he and his friends (who shall remain nameless) went to an FFA Convention. The boys all slipped away from the convention so they could go to the local Strip Club. They were in the front row enjoying themselves when they were busted by the teacher!
Bill was always up for an adventure. When he was little, the family had a pony named Earl. Bill didn’t want to ride Earl so he and Ted worked up a plan where Ted would ride Earl and Bill would ride the Tricyle that they had rigged to be pulled by the horse. Ted had fun trying to get Bill to fall off his bike.
Bill loved to travel and try new things. He had a cabin at the lake where he had a Wave-Runner and on his 70th birthday he went Para-Sailing. He took trips to many places including Alaska. Last year, even though he was ill, he took a cruise to Hawaii. He was a man who tried to embrace life.
Bill was an avid Fighting Illini fan. He tried out for the football team in college but didn’t make the team. Each year he has supported the school financially and made it a point to come back to attend a football game. Bill was also was a Nebraska Cornhusker fan.
Bill loved to hunt for mushrooms all over the country. He always enjoyed having people stop to visit him (though he didn’t want you to make a special trip just to see him). He kept in touch with friends he had from High School. He was active in his church, involved in his community, and enjoyed life to the fullest. Bill Irish understood what Solomon meant when he said, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” Bill Irish lived a good life and he enjoyed the journey.
Christians in earlier days often referred to life as a pilgrimage. The prefix, Pil is a Latin preposition meaning through. The root word grim is from an old Latin word meaning land. A pilgrim is someone traveling through a foreign land, a wayfarer. That is the biblical definition of a Christian. Many of our old hymns speak of the Christian life as a pilgrimage.
While we walk the pilgrim pathway
Clouds will overspread the sky
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.
Another song says:
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through . . .
North Carolina evangelist Vance Havner once said, “We aren’t citizens of earth going to heaven; we’re citizens of heaven passing through the world.”
In Psalm 84 we read these words,
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
These verses remind us of what it means to live the Pilgrim life. First, living the Pilgrim life means living in God’s strength. The true pilgrim is the one who puts their hope in the Lord. They understand that the goal of the journey is not this world, but the next. They realize that this life is the journey to something better. They believe they are on a mission of God. They find their strength not in their wisdom, but in God’s Word. They put their hope not in their goodness, but in God’s grace. They do not see life as an accident, but as a purposeful creation of a Holy God.
Second, the true pilgrim takes the journey seriously. They have their hearts set on the pilgrimage. They understand that there is purpose to our earthly existence. They are focused and engaged. Too many people live their lives distracted. They miss the joy of life because they don’t see the significance of these brief years we have to enjoy. Bill Irish sounds to me like a man who had set his heart on the pilgrimage.
Third, the true pilgrim grows from the trials of life. The Psalmist writes, “as they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs.” The verse means that the pilgrim turns bad times into positive experiences. The pilgrim sees every event as a learning opportunity. Bill had serious health problems but he didn’t let these defeat him. He continued to live and to enjoy life as much as his body would allow. Many people die well before they stop breathing. Not Bill. He refused to stop living until he died.
Francis and Edith Schaeffer set out as missionaries to Switzerland, where they founded a study center for European students searching for truth. They called it “L’Abri,” a French word meaning “Shelter.” Through their hospitality at L’Abri and through their books and seminars, the Schaeffers helped thousands of young people find Christ.
Then, during a 1978 visit to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Francis was diagnosed with an advanced case of lymphoma and was told he had only six to eight weeks to live. His cancer went into remission twice, and his life was extended five more years, during which he ministered on both sides of the Atlantic with unusual power.
Nearing death, he said, “By God’s grace, I have been able to do more in these last five years than in all the years before I had cancer.” He continued taking his treatments, praying for healing, and speaking quietly for the Lord; but it became clear he was dying.
As was his custom, he met this final challenge by turning to the Scriptures, and the Lord gave him this passage, Psalm 84:5–7: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca [Valley of Weeping], they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”
Those words became a constant comfort to Francis. The Lord gave him strength. His valley of weeping became a spring from which others found the Lord. And finally, early on May 15, 1984, he appeared before God in Zion.
On May 28th, Bill Irish appeared before God in Zion. This pilgrim arrived home from his journey. He was welcomed into the place that God had prepared for him. This place is not his home because of Bill’s warm heart, generous ways, or his good deeds. Bill Irish’s hope of Heaven was not in his goodness (for, like all of us, it is insufficient). His hope is anchored to the work of Jesus Christ on his behalf. Jesus laid down his life as a payment for our sin and rose from the dead to show that this payment was satisfactory to our Holy God. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can know eternal life. It is Bill’s trust in Christ that gains him entry into God’s Kingdom.
So, as we reflect on Bill’s life, it is our job to celebrate and cherish what he taught us. It is up to us to learn from his example. His pilgrimage has been completed, but ours continues. It is our job to live and draw our strength and life from the Lord. It is our job to live life to the fullest, it is our job to grow from the trials in life, and finally, it is our job to make sure that our confidence is in the work of Jesus and not in our own supposed goodness.
Today we mourn but we also celebrate a life well lived. We are saddened for our loss, but we rejoice that Bill has completed the journey and made it safely home.
Let’s pray together,
Father, we thank you for the life of Bill Irish. Thank you for his service, his heart, and his example. Please assist us as we grieve. Help us not to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. Instead, help us put our hope securely in your hands on the basis of the work of our Savior, Jesus. Help us also to live the life as pilgrims. Help us to enjoy the journey but help us also to remember that our destination is not in the world, but the next. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.